Sloan Hosts Leadership Talk from Red Hat CEO

Red Hat CEO

MIT Sloan recently published an article on a leadership strategies seminar that Jim Whitehurst, CEO of open source software company Red Hat and author of The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance presented last week as part of the Innovative Leadership Series.

Whitehurst compared modern leadership to “synapses connecting the neurons,” rather than the old “strategic master” model in which CEOs “issued marching orders for employees to follow.” He believes leaders “create the context for people to do their best work.” Whitehurst defines context as 90 percent culture peppered with “some general strategic direction and general competitive understanding added.”

Whitehurst continually emphasized the importance of context with regard to effective leadership: “I know I am not smart enough to know where technology’s going, because it’s moving too fast and it’s too ambiguous. But if I create the right context around ‘Here’s generally where we want to go,’ then have the right organization and dialogue that happens, we will get to the right solution.”

Whitehurst offered practical advice for leaders looking to inspire devotion from their employees. He espoused the virtues of so-called “creative abrasion” in which “good ideas are challenged to be better.” He believes “nobody should be insulted by being criticized. You should be insulted by being ignored.”

Frequently, Whitehurst referenced successful open source software company Red Hat. More specifically, he highlighted how well the company’s leadership communicates with its employees, even regarding criticism and commitment to an overall mission.

“Nobody should be insulted by being criticized,” he said. “You should be insulted by being ignored.”

“Leaders should focus on the company’s mission, and help employees understand their role in fulfilling that mission.” He suggests “sharing goals and strategy and asking for feedback and insight” in order to satisfy the innate human desire to “feel like [people] have a part in creating their future.”

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